Does The 4th Amendment Not Apply To Minorities in NYC?

New York City’s “Stop and Frisk” program is a stunningly and transparently racist program. The Daily Show does a fantastic (and hilarious) job on it:

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Dylan Walker (Skeptimus Prime)

    I was bothered by this too. As a person who formerly lived in Arizona it reminded me of the law there that allowed police to indiscriminately check people for documents proving their legal status without cause.

  • alexander stanislaw

    I don’t know if I support frisking or not however I’d like to outline where the debate seems to be:

    P1: Frisking reduces the number of violent crimes in a city (and hence saves lives) via two means: 1) it discourages criminal activity ; 2) criminals that are frisked are less of a threat in the future.
    P2: Young black men are more likely to commit violent crimes than other demographics.
    P3: From P2 and P1, given finite resources, frisking will be more effective if young black men are frisked relatively more often than other groups.
    P4: If the cost of frisking young black men at higher rates is less significant than the lives saved then Frisking is a good thing.
    P5: The cost of frisking is small compared to the lives saved.
    P6: Frisking is a good thing.

    Most arguments against frisking usually attack P5, but I’ve yet to see a good criticism. Calling it racist isn’t particularly compelling, unless you smuggle in the assumption that discrimination based on race is always immoral (that would be rather difficult to defend). Saying that people have a fundamental human right to not be searched, is equally unimpressive.

    The only strong argument that I’ve heard against frisking is the claim that increased frisking doesn’t make cities much safer because of diminishing marginal returns. However, most opponents of frisking don’t seem to want to see less frisking – they seem to want it gone.

    • baal

      I feel like (and the Constitution was behind the view that) the State doesn’t have a right to touch me absent some clearly articulatable reason. I’m sorry you don’t find that all that impressive.

      I also feel that even if the program was provably hugely successful at reducing crime, the fact that it discriminates in it’s application should be fatal to it.

      Let’s say you have a room of 100 people and 10 of them are criminals and 10 are black. The cops then stop all the blacks from the 100 (10 people) and find the 1 criminal (huge success!). The cops didn’t stop the 90 non-blacks to find the other 2 criminals. It’s a selective enforcement and the complaint is that 90% of the black community were stopped without adequate cause and they now feel like (and are treated like) 2nd class citizens.

      I also haven’t seen anyone on the pro-frisking side prove up any of the points you list out. They’ve been arguing from post-hoc rationalizing or mere assertion so far as I’ve seen.

    • alexander stanislaw

      DISCLAIMER: My argument is predicated upon consequentialism. For more information about consequentialism you can read more here. If you are not a consequentialist, but you do think that counterfactual thinking is a reasonable way to dissolve moral questions then you may read on.

      Which proposition other than P5 do you think is questionable?

      P1 you seem to agree with.

      P2 is just the facts.

      P3 is straightforward statistical discrimination.

      P4 is obvious under consequentialism. I think it might be obvious under deontology but I wouldn’t know.

      P5 is the premise under attack is seems.

      P6 follows from P4 and P5.

      If we are just considering the number of violent crimes prevented/lives saved and the cops only have enough resources to search 10 people they _of course_ should search the blacks. They won’t do that because of the backlash so they might have to settle for searching 4 blacks and 6 whites, but that would still be better than searching randomly.

      Regarding the blacks that were stopped without adequate cause, it is worth noting that any other frisking procedure that doesn’t use all of the available demographic data will results in MORE people getting stopped without adequate cause. On average, stopping blacks and whites equally will results in many more innocent people (closer to 97% but I haven’t done the calculation) being stopped.

      But moreover, I’m baffled as to why you think that the lives saved are worth less than the badness of being stopped and then being let go.

      A world without frisking has +X deaths due to violent crime.
      A world with frisking has -X deaths due to violent crime, and +Y people inconvenienced.

      It strikes me as blatantly obvious that unless Y is way way greater than X then the world with frisking is the way to go.